Govt to engage GuySuCo on stalled wage increase talks

Sugar workers at Uitvlugt during Friday’s protest
Agriculture Minister
Zulfikar Mustapha

Days after sugar workers at the Uitvlugt Estate, West Coast Demerara (WCD), downed tools to protest over stalled discussions regarding the increases of their wages and salaries, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha said he will be engaging the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) on the matter.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Friday said GuySuCo has failed to meet its promise regarding its position on wage/salary improvements for the period 2019 to 2021.
The Corporation was expected to get back to the Union by the end of March 2021 but despite writing GuySuCo on April 9, the Union is yet to be furnished with a response. This led to Friday’s protest action by the Uitvlugt workers.
Nevertheless, Minister Mustapha said Government is awaiting a report from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GuySuCo, Sasenarine Singh.
“The Government has not promised any increase, but we will ensure that we work with the Corporation to see what we can do for the sugar workers,” he said on the sidelines of a community consultation in Maida, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne).
According to the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Agriculture Minister said the agreements on wages and salaries are ultimately the responsibility of GuySuCo and GAWU.
“As a Government, we don’t interfere with management and Union negotiations,” he posited.
However, the Minister noted that GuySuCo’s ability to pay the increases would take into account investments it has made since August, to revitalise the estates.
“We have been putting funds in GuySuCo over the last nine months to develop GuySuCo, recapitalise GuySuCo. As a matter of fact, we are starting to see results already from some of the estates,” Mustapha said.
The Albion and Blairmont sugar estates were lauded for making three additional days of pay due to the enhancement of the factories through critical capital works.
Minister Mustapha stated, “Our commitment was to ensure that we reopen the closed sugar estates. We are working aggressively to do that.”
In a statement on Friday, GAWU said sugar workers feel believe GuySuCo is being disrespectful to them and the Union.
“They shared that GuySuCo has boasted of massive investments in the fields and factories but there is no such boisterousness when it comes to addressing the plight of the workers. The workers contended in as much as the Corporation recognised the need for investment in its physical assets, its human assets also required some level of investment as well,” the Union said in Friday’s missive.
It went on to highlight the workers’ frustration over the pay freeze they suffered under the coalition’s term in office, noting that some of them were earning just above the national minimum wage.
“This they said was hardly sufficient to take care of their families. Workers shared that they recognised the plight of the Corporation and were in empathy but nonetheless believed that something should be done to at least alleviate their situation as efforts are furthered to turn the industry around. Key to the success of the industry’s climb from the doldrums is a motivated and committed workforce,” the GAWU statement outlined.
On this note, the affected workers expressed delight at the recent comments of GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer, Sasenarine Singh, who said in an interview that the Corporation is seeking to sell sugar at higher prices.
This initiative is lauded by the sugar workers, who are hopeful that even greater quantities of sugar can be sold in the new markets touted. Workers held that their efforts are partially responsible for the improvements heralded and they ought to receive some due reward for their contributions.
Meanwhile, GAWU said it remains open for frank discussions with the Corporation.
Only in March, GAWU had accused GuySuCo of dragging its foot on the issue of wage increases during a picketing exercise staged by workers at the Albion, Corentyne, and Blairmont, West Coast Berbice Estates.
The Union had explained then that salary negotiations have been ongoing for years and the Corporation seems to not be interested in bringing an end to the discussions.
Since taking office, the PPP/C Administration has injected some 7 billion dollars into the sugar industry – $5 billion in the 2020 Emergency Budget and a further $2 billion in this year’s budget – to help in the turnaround of the sector.